In a 28-second video, posted to Twitter this week by a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to launch rocket attacks against Israelis from densely populated civilian areas.
At least, that’s what Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman said in the video. But his tweet with the images, which was shared hundreds of times as the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis escalated, did not come from Gaza. It wasn’t even this week.
Instead, the video he shared, which can be found on many YouTube channels and other video hosting sites, was from 2018. And according to captions for older versions of the video, it showed activists shooting rockets not from Gaza but from Syria or Libya.
The video was just misinformation that circulated on Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media this week about rising violence between Israelis and Palestinians as Israeli military ground forces attacked Gaza. early Friday. The fake news included videos, photos, and text snippets believed to have come from government officials in the region, with unsubstantiated messages earlier this week claiming Israeli soldiers had invaded Gaza or that Palestinian mobs were on the verge. to rampage in the sleepy suburbs of Israel.
The lies were magnified as they were shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook, spreading to WhatsApp and Telegram groups which have thousands of members, according to New York Times analysis. The effect of disinformation is potentially deadly, disinformation experts have said, inflaming tensions between Israelis and Palestinians when suspicion and mistrust are already high.
“Much of it is rumors and broken phones, but they are being shared right now because people are desperate to share information about the unfolding situation,” said Arieh Kovler, political analyst and independent researcher. in Jerusalem which studies disinformation. “What makes it more confusing is that this is a mixture of false statements and genuine things, which are attributed in the wrong place or at the wrong time.”
Twitter and Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, did not respond to requests for comment. Christina LoNigro, spokesperson for WhatsApp, said the company has limited the number of times people can send a message in order to combat disinformation.
TikTok said in a statement, “Our teams have worked expeditiously to remove misinformation, attempted incitement to violence, and other content that violates our community guidelines, and will continue to do so.”
The Times this week uncovered several misinformation that has spread throughout Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods and militant WhatsApp groups. One, which appeared as a block of Hebrew text or an audio file, contained a warning that Palestinian crowds were preparing to descend on Israeli citizens.
“Palestinians are coming, parents are protecting your children,” read the post, which specifically referred to several suburbs north of Tel Aviv. Thousands of people were part of one of the Telegram groups where the message was shared; the message then appeared in several WhatsApp groups, which had tens to hundreds of members.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Israeli police did not respond to a request for comment. No cases of violence were reported in the areas mentioned in the message.
In another article earlier this week, written in Arabic and sent to a WhatsApp group of more than 200 members, warnings were reported that Israeli soldiers were about to invade the Gaza Strip.
“The invasion is coming,” the text reads, urging people to pray for their families.
News sources in Arabic and Hebrew also seem to amplify some misinformation. Several Israeli media recently discussed a video showing a family going to a funeral with a body wrapped up, only to drop the body when a police siren sounded. The video was cited by news outlets as evidence that Palestinian families were staging fake funerals and exaggerating the number of people killed in the conflict.
In fact, the video appeared on YouTube over a year ago and may have shown a Jordanian family holding a fake funeral, according to a caption left on the original video.
Excerpts from another video showing religious Jews tearing their clothes as a sign of devotion also circulated on Arabic news sites this week. The clips were cited as evidence that Jews were faking their own injuries during clashes in Jerusalem.
It was wrong. The video had been uploaded to WhatsApp and Facebook several times earlier this year, according to the Times analysis.
There is a long history of disinformation shared between Israeli and Palestinian groups, with false claims and plots that multiply during times of heightened violence in the region.
In recent years, Facebook has suppressed several disinformation campaigns from Iran aimed at stoking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Twitter also deleted a network of fake accounts in 2019 that was used to defame opponents of Mr. Netanyahu.
The grainy video Mr. Gendelman shared on Twitter Wednesday, which allegedly showed Palestinian militants launching rocket attacks against Israelis, was deleted Thursday after Twitter called it “misleading content.” Mr. Gendelman’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Gendelman also appears to have misinterpreted the content of other videos. On Tuesday, he posted a video on Twitter showing three adult men lying on the ground, their bodies being arranged by a crowd nearby. Mr. Gendelman said the video showed Palestinians staging bodies for a photoshoot.
Mr Kovler, who traced the video to its source, said the video was posted in March on TikTok. The accompanying text said the images showed people practicing a bomb drill.